Ontario Premier Doug Ford has begun the process of selecting his new inner circle of cabinet ministers as his government prepares to potentially recall the legislature for a brief summer sitting in order to pass the 2022-23 provincial budget.
Insiders with the Progressive Conservative party have been given a 10-day timeline for Ford’s team to select a new cabinet before the Premier’s Executive Council is sworn in by Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdswell.
While an exact date has yet to be finalized, Ford is expected to reconvene the legislature as early as June to re-introduce and pass the provincial spending plan — which was originally tabled in late-April and served as the PC party platform during the election.
After a landslide victory, however, which sent Ford back to Queen’s Park alongside 82 caucus members — backed by just 18 per cent of the population — the task of selecting a new cabinet could be complicated by a number of considerations.
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Conservative strategists say the premier has a delicate balancing act ahead of him as the party looks to promote top-performing cabinet ministers, reward newly-won PC ridings with cabinet posts and find equity in gender and diversity.
“Every member of caucus has been evaluated on what you can do to advance this government’s agenda in the next four years,” said David Tarrant, a PC strategist who served in the Premier’s Office during Ford’s first mandate.
The cabinet selection team, led by Ford’s chief of staff, Jamie Wallace, is comprised of long-serving advisers to the premier, his director of forward planning and Tausha Michaud, a close adviser to one-time Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole.
The most significant challenge, strategists say, is choosing the next minister of health who will oversee a $75.2-billion budget, an ongoing transformation of the health-care bureaucracy, while still navigating the COVID-19 fallout which created a shortage of health-care workers and left the province with a growing backlog of surgeries.
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“It will be the centerpiece of this shuffle,” said one senior Conservative, speaking on background, who pointed to Stephen Lecce, Greg Rickford and Caroline Mulroney as top performing cabinet ministers who could be among the names considered for the position.
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While Peter Bethlenfalvy is expected to stay on as finance minister, the education portfolio could be a trickier file, strategists believe, as the government prepares for a new battle with Ontario’s education unions during contract negotiations.
Ford, sources say, is “very, very hands on” with the cabinet selection process, often meeting with candidates under consideration before deciding whether to appoint them to the role.
While another source said the premier “doesn’t like hurting people’s feelings,” Ford was blunt about any caucus members who makes a direct appeal for a cabinet post.
“I have one rule for caucus: don’t lobby me for cabinet,” Ford said during a news conference on Friday. “It just doesn’t work that way with me.”
Ford, insiders say, will also look to reward voters in newly-captured ridings with a seat at the cabinet, which could place additional MPPs from Windsor, Hamilton and Northern Ontario in Ford’s inner circle.
The one riding that might be excluded from cabinet is York South Weston where the premier’s nephew, Michael Ford, snatched the seat from the NDP.
“It’s too much nepotism,” warned one senior conservative source.
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Strategists like Tarrant believe the premier will have an easier time formulating his cabinet, compared to 2018, because the 2022 team is largely of Ford’s making.
When Ford was first swept into power in 2018 he was asked to choose between long-time PC caucus members or MPPs who were elected under Patrick Brown’s tenure as leader.
“Now he has a team of people he personally recruited, people who actually bought into what he wanted to do in government,” Tarrant said.
“It gives them a lot more comfort that he can actually build the kind of team he wants wants, reward good performers from the the old caucus, but also rewards, I think, some of these these key newcomers.”
— with files from Global News’ Alex Boutilier
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